Friday, January 31, 2014

Feb Car-Free & Shift Your Commute

This showed up in my Facebook newsfeed earlier this week:

I think this is a great initiative. 

I thought about trying to incorporate more MetroLink options into my commute - my office is only about 3 blocks from a stop - but my home is not near any MetroLink stations (the nearest is 4+ miles away, which means I might as well just ride my bike the entire way to work and back - it's only couple of miles farther). I could hold my breath for additional expansion, but I don't think we're there yet. 

If I were closer to a MetroLink stop at home, I'd consider participating for sure. Which brings me to this... Last month, I mentioned that the husband and I are considering a move to another part of St. Louis County. Well, we put an offer in on a house, and it's currently in negotiations (we are not yet under contract; just the most attractive offer at the moment, so I'm not holding my breath and neither should you). If we are able to work out the contract details, the home would be substantially closer to both mass transit and my office, making regular biking, walking, and MetroLink-ing a truly meaningful possibility. I have visions of only using my car sporadically during working hours, and it's kind of making me giddy. 

If the home works out for us, it would still be a few months before we move, so that rules out any meaningful bicycle commuting in February, but would put me in a good position to start riding more regularly when the weather and daylight hours cooperate more frequently than they do in January and February. So, don't hold your breath, but if you wanted to cross your fingers for us, that'd be fantastic. I suspect -- hope?? -- we'll know if we're at least under contract by the next time I post. 

Cheers, happy riding, happy walking, happy MetroLink-ing... and stay warm, whatever it is you're doing!

Monday, January 27, 2014

St. Louis & Complete Streets

From the "Better Late Than Never" Posting Dept... *
*a reference to the fact I usually post on Fridays...

Approximately two months ago, a "Complete Streets" bill was proposed in St. Louis County. It was met with a lot of questions and push-back, was tabled and revised, and resubmitted last week... and it passed!

Complete Streets means designing new and redesigning existing streets to be more usable by everyone - cars, bicycles, the disabled/wheelchair-bound, pedestrians, young, and elderly. 

I am thrilled with this development, though I know it will be slow-going due to the cost and the state of current infrastructure. Many roads have been expanded at the expense of wide-enough lanes, adequate sidewalks, or adequate frontage (just yeesh, Manchester Road in Rock Hill/Warson Woods and points West).

Here's a recent article with more info from the local paper (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

The measure was contentious, to say the least. There is a strong contingency of riders who believe that riding in traffic ("taking the lane") is safer and makes riders more visible. There are other riders who just feel more comfortable in a designated bike lane (I'm in this camp, rightly or wrongly), and who often argue that dedicated bike lanes will encourage more women and other riders unwilling to take the lane to begin commuting. 

I believe both are correct - I do agree that bike lanes present issues with visibility, with distracted drivers, and with maintenance (Chicago tweeters have often complained this winter that the main lanes are plowed, while bike lanes remain icy, slushy, or otherwise obstructed), but others don't trust the drivers to be less distracted just because you're right in front of them, or simply aren't comfortable sharing a lane when the 30-pound steel contraption is traveling at about 20% of the speed of the multi-ton, steel contraption. I do think that both camps generally can agree that more riders makes bicycling safer, because the more cars see bicycles on the road (whether in bike lanes or regular lanes), the more they look out for them and learn to share the road. 

Of course, there are the folks who are totally against bicycle infrastructure because they do not want to share the road with either a cyclist or a dedicate lane. A major argument comes from the belief that bicyclists are gaining a major benefit (at the high cost of revamped infrastructure) without contributing (generally, because the bicycles, unlike the cars, do not have to be registered, the riders don't have to be licensed, and bike-ownership taxes aren't paid on an annual basis). Many people also feel that roads were built for the exclusive benefit of cars. I think these arguments fail, for the following reasons:

One of the things that most strikes me, however, regarding the objection to bike lanes by cars...
So many of the objections have to do with not wanting cyclists (slow) in the way of cars (fast). Cars have to pass them, or get stuck behind them, and the resulting frustration lends itself to a lot of animosity toward cyclists. A bicycle lane, however, gives the bike a clear place to be so that the car lane is more often open for cars (for a bike lane does not preclude a rider from using the car lane*, though it does preclude a car from using the bike lane). Isn't that a nice solution for cars? If drivers could safely drive by instead of behind a transportation cyclist moseying along at 7-10 mph, wouldn't that make the drivers happier? All I ask in return is that drivers quit texting and drinking and driving and keep an eye out for me and other riders, and not try to turn right across our path... Isn't that a suitable compromise? This doesn't fix the "take the lane" arguments or preclude the need for a bike rider to sometimes ride in the flow of traffic rather than in a dedicated (or absent) bike lane, but if you're in the "roads for cars" camp, doesn't a designated corridor make you happier? More bike-friendly?

*Missouri cyclists are not required to ride in a shoulder or bike lane that is unsafe due to parked cars, debris, or other obstructions. In fact, cyclists are granted all the road rights of cars pursuant to Missouri state law, subject to a few special rules about lighting/reflectors, default lane position, and signaling

If you even think about suggesting the proper place for bicycles are sidewalks, please note that in Missouri and many other states, there are entire swaths of sidewalks (usually the same places where sidewalks are most prevalent) where bike riding on sidewalks is often illegal.

All in all, I'm pretty excited about the passing of Complete Streets. I see it as a fabulous opportunity to continue to increase discussions and awareness about cycling as a safe and meaningful alternative to driving, to help both cyclists and drivers better understand their rights and responsibilities when sharing the road, and hopefully to create a better sense of camaraderie between the two camps that are so often pitted against one another. Really, most cyclists are also drivers. They are all someone's spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend, or and/or lover, as are all drivers. We're all in this together, and I see Complete Streets as a fantastic opportunity to try to find the things we have in common, rather than focusing on the things that divide us. Hopefully, this starts by encouraging more people to use our roads in new and different ways, by realizing we all want the option to get to work safely and conveniently (however we're traveling), and that we're all pitching in to fund these roads, sidewalks, and bike lanes, however we are choosing to get around any given day. 

Cheers, and happy (and safe) riding...and driving!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Beautiful Bicycle Infrastructure

It was 16°F when I left the house this morning, and while the sun is up before I leave for work, it's still below the horizon before I leave the office, so it will be a while yet before I return to a work commute. I'm holding out hope that I can try a short winter ride to church and back one of these Sundays (I was out of town when the weather was perfect last weekend, natch, but Sunday is predicted to be sunny and 50°F, so I'm sure hoping to get a ride in. The only real question is which bicycle to take?

While I'm waiting for the thaw, I thought I'd share some photos of and links to beautiful bicycle infrastructure. It was, first and foremost, inspired by this recent Twitter post:

Source: Oregon Economics
Source: TreeHugger

Source: The Urban Country


Friday, January 10, 2014

A Funny Story

I spoke with a local paper this week about commuting to work by bicycle in St. Louis County for a story they are planning to run about Complete Streets.

Paper: "Do you commute regularly?"

Me: "Uh, no. I'm what you might call a 'fair-weather' commuter."

P: "Did you ride this week?"

Me: "Have you been outside? No."

P: "Are you planning to ride to work this week?"

Me: "See answer to previous question."

P: "Do you know anyone who is planning to commute to work this week in St. Louis County?"

Me: "See answer to previous question."

This is what my street looked like on Tuesday morning...

The roads were much better by Wednesday (with snow still encroaching on most lanes, and totally obscuring bike paths and shoulders, even on arterial roads), and Thursday we woke to more fat, slippery, slushy, icy snow in the region. This morning brought reports of mist and black ice. No thanks - I'm just not that adventurous, though a major hat-tip to those of you who are -- be careful out there. 

I am exaggerating the conversation for the effect of this post, but this was the gist of it. The conversation was perfectly lovely, and I'm so looking forward to seeing County streets become more multi-user-friendly, and reports and discussions will only help this happen. Despite the fact that I couldn't help them find a cycling commuter who is riding to work this week, I was able to share what I love and loathe about my commute to work. I'll be looking for the story, and will post it here when it's available!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fiets-losophy: Thoughts on Guilt, Social Media, and the Bicycle Rider

You're doing it wrong.

You're not doing it enough.

You're not a real cyclist.

I came back to bicycling slowly. Awareness of bicycles as a means to stay fit crept into my consciousness back in 2007, before I married The Hubster, when I needed a way to cross-train on days I wasn't running. I dragged the Trek to St. Louis from my hometown in Kansas, aired up the tires, and took the bike out. I was shocked at how easy and difficult it was all at the same time. The fat tires and aggressive riding position felt awful and slow. Also, I hated wearing a helmet, and I thought I had to wear padded bike shorts to ride, which made me not want to ride. So after the wedding, I stopped, and I didn't touch a bicycle again for years.

Then, starting somewhere in 2012, bicycles started to creep back into my consciousness. I started to see them referenced on some of my favorite blogs. Most of the writers had bikes that looked different from the "grown-up" bike options I was familiar with - e.g., mountain bicycles, "mountain-bike-lite" hybrids, serious road bikes, or ten speeds. I was seeing "upright", "city", or "Dutch-style" bicycles, though I knew little more than that I thought they were very chic and lovely.

In the spring of 2013, however, I was smitten -- and had been bitten by the bug. I started reading bike blogs voraciously, and following cyclists on Twitter. I quickly decided that I wanted to buy myself an upright bicycle, and keep my mountain bike, too. The bike blogs were amazing inspiration. There were people all over the place who were completely in love with bicycling and riding 3, 6, 10, 25 miles to work...every day. In all sorts of weather. And they looked healthy and happy. 

I used the stories from the blogs and the comments to inform the purchase of my own upright bicycle in very late May - a Linus Dutchi 3-speed in black. I immediately purchased lights, and outfitted it with front and rear baskets.  I rode it my own 13 miles round-trip to work, 4 miles round-trip to church, and 15-22 miles round-trip to/on my local multi-use trail. I loaded it into the back of my car and drove to other trails in the area (St. Louis is rich for these). I got the mountain bike back out and rode it around a little. I packed it and took it with me to KC to ride trails with my brother when I picked up my Mother's nearly 40-year old 10-speed to fix up and ride. And here's what I've discovered, so far:

  • I do love riding bicycles! 
  • Having the right bicycle for the type of riding you are doing can be really important - - get bicycle stables. (I'm pretty pleased with my three bikes.) 
  • An upright bicycle is heavy. An upright bicycle with three baskets is even heavier, and will punch you in the throat with a handlebar when you're trying to shove it into the back of a vehicle. That hurts.
  • I really hate wearing a helmet. Still, I will wear a helmet mostly to keep people from telling me to wear a helmet, which I find more unpleasant than actually wearing the thing.
  • I love the fabulous bike trails in the St. Louis area - especially Grant's Trail and Creve Coeur Lake.
  • It's amazing how quiet the world is when you're biking through a neighborhood without cars or pedestrians. 
  • Animals don't immediately run away from a bicycle like they do from cars and pedestrians. (I think this speaks volumes for bicycles.)
  • I cannot ride to/from work or church without sweating profusely if it's over 85 degrees, and I do not like to sport a red face and drip sweat for half hour after I arrive somewhere. I can ride slowly, but hills are hills are hills, friends.
  • I think anything between 40°F and 75°F is just about perfect for any outdoor activity, save, perhaps, swimming. I'll grant an extra 10°F in either direction without complaining. This pretty much gives me the bulk of March to June and September to November to ride, and a few odd days in the remaining five months. Otherwise, I'd just as soon hide inside or be somewhere with better weather.
  • I don't much care for riding at night/after dark. I will, however, ride after dark for a short trip within St. Louis neighborhoods where I can avoid busy streets. This pretty much knocks out work commuting in November and the first third of March. 
  • I am not interested in riding in snow or ice... or lightning.
  • I am looking forward to trying my work commute on the ten-speed, because with the upright bicycle's heavy weight and three gears, some of the hills on my commute are brutal. Brutal. (Even if someone else wouldn't mind them, I still find them steep.)
  • If the ten speed (which is about 5-7 pounds lighter than the upright bike, with all her baskets) is significantly more pleasant to ride to/from work, I will have to decide whether to make the ten speed my work commute bike (with a rear rack and fenders, it's just about ready to go), or upgrade the hub and shifters on the upright bicycle to an 8-speed Shimano (versus the 3-speed Shimano). This bullet is THE. BIKE. DECISION. of 2014.
  • My mountain bike's exact role is unknown right now. I am not pleased with the fit (feels really small and crowded), the handlebars, or the grips, and need fenders and a way to carry things. I just can't decide yet which direction I want to go. Smooth tires and commute-y, with a full rack? Or keep the knobby tires and just add fenders and a small rear rack (like on the Motobecane), and *slightly* swept-back, wider bars? I'm leaning toward the latter, because then I think the mountain bike would be just about perfect for a trip down the Katy Trail. 
  • I'm a designated bike-lane sort of girl -- which I'm gathering quickly is very controversial. I don't like taking the lane, and I don't like riding with cars (though I will in order to ride as safely and predictably as I can). I don't want to be on the sidewalk, either. If it were up to me, there would be a network of Grant's-Trail-type multi-use paths connecting all of St. Louis City and County, with designated bike lanes on most roads (and protected lanes on arterial roads). That would make me happy. Also, I'd like to ditch the helmet in that circumstance, if I'm totally honest.
  • I need a bike rack. But not on my roof or on my car all the time.

As you will have noticed, at least so far, I have a fair amount of things (excuses, even) that keep me from riding. It's cold and dark right now, and we got snow Wednesday night and the metro area is bracing for another 8" this weekend. I've pretty much accepted that, other than to get to and from church on a reasonably mild and clear-road day, or the odd unseasonably-warm-day-on-a-weekend, I'm probably not going to do a lot of riding until the return of Daylight Savings Time. I'm completely open to the fact that, with just a few weather-ideal days in June, September, and October, I've really only begun to rediscover bicycling, and I may feel very differently after another year. I know I'm excited to welcome the return of Daylight Savings Time and spring come March, and to see what that brings. I'm purchasing my bike rack today - it will hold two bicycles and fold away in the back of my car when I don't need it, which will mean I can take any bike any place, and bring a second bike for the hubby or a friend. This will be fantastic.

Right now, though? My bicycles are ornaments. The upright bicycle is simply too heavy and unwieldy (see, e.g., throat punch) to lug to and from my basement, but I've moved the lightweight mountain bike back downstairs. The red ten-speed is keeping the (surprisingly, still up-and-decorated) Christmas tree company, and will probably stay in the living room for easy-access should a lovely weekend day present itself.

And I feel guilty, and sad, and like an impostor. The blog posts by the most dedicated of bicyclists have lately become somewhat of a burden instead of a blessing and inspiration to me. Twitter offers a constant reminder of all the people out there riding in the worst weather and on the shortest days. I read about people bicycling in parts of Canada with 6" of snow on the ground 6 months out of the year (and even fewer long-light days during those six months), or in Boston or Chicago (with aggressive drivers and snow-covered bike lanes), or in busy, car-crazy Los Angeles, where every few days, it seems someone is hit while riding by a distracted or drunk driver. And its a little overwhelming. Because I'm new, and maybe I'm not doing this right and missing something. Maybe I'm not riding enough, and therefore, not a real cyclist

Except that I am. And so are you, if you ride at all, and if you want to be. 

I am a huge proponent of the idea that a little bit of good swapped for something bad is a whole lot better than nothing at all. So I smother my kale and quinoa in butter and salt (I sure do): I'm still getting more - and more real - nutrients from that meal which are far better than anything I'd find at a drive-thru window, which is probably what I'd be eating instead (if I'm honest). 

Likewise, I probably rode my bike to work or church over about two dozen trips between the last couple days of May and the very end of October. I also did another half-dozen "just for fun" rides around my neighborhood or on my favorite trails. I may have stayed home, or I may have spent that time running errands or shopping in my car, and I know I would have otherwise used my car for the work and church trips. That's 36 trips of between four and 20 miles that weren't made by car. Let's say I did 12 trips of 13 miles each, 12 trips of 4 miles each, 2 five-mile fun rides, 2 10-mile fun rides, and 2 20-mile fun rides. 

That suddenly sounds like a fair amount of riding, when I've felt so focused instead on the time I wasn't on the bicycle, and which isn't fair. And, are you ready for this? Those rides encompass two hundred and seventy-four miles that weren't spent in a car, and didn't use gas, or spew ickypoonasty stuff into the air. 

At $4/gal and 27 mpg average, that's ten gallons of gas I haven't had to purchase since May. Only $40, but, according to this site, you emit 271 g of greenhouse gas per km driven, versus 21 g/km on the bike (taking into account your own fuel, and what it took to produce all of the things to get you moving in either instance). Converting mi to km, 274 mi is 441 km. 441 km driven produces 119,511 g (about 264 POUNDS) of CO2 emissions. Biking the same distance? 9,261 g, or just over 20 pounds of CO2. 

And that feels like something. And it is something.

In another metric, at 35 calories per mile (I'm small, and slow), I've burned nearly 10,000 calories on my collective rides. I'm still the same size and shape, but I like to think that I've made room for that extra slice of pizza or extra cream in my coffee without my belt getting tighter. Seriously: let's do some math. I bike an average of, say, 8mph, taking into account slower commutes and faster bike trails. I've spent about 34.25 hours on my bicycle as a result. That's approximately 280 calories burned per hour, versus about 60/hour if I'm totally sedentary. Even assuming a fairly active alternative (100/hr) -- which driving is not -- I've burned 180 cal/hr more on the bicycle over 34.25 hours, which is 6,165 calories I'm not carrying around as excess, or almost 2 pounds. (Considering the average American adult gains a pound per year as they age, and my average weight this year is -- perhaps not incidentally -- two pounds lighter, this is certainly something.) I've strengthened my heart and lungs in the process. I have said of running: once you've done it, no one can take it away from you. Bicycling is the same. 

Yes, more could be better -- better for the cost-per-use of the bicycle; better for the earth; better for my waistline and heart and lungs. But something is still something. And I want to go into 2014 focusing on that, and feeling proud about what I have done in just half of 2013, and what I may do in 2014 - and even if it's about the same, or a little more, or a little less, that's all good enough.

Cheers, Happy New Year, and happy riding! 

(Whenever - and however - you ride.)